Saturday, September 12, 2020



Written by Joe Orton

Directed by Liz Bradley

Canberra REP production at Theatre, Acton to 26 September


Reviewed by Len Power 10 September 2020


Don’t think that because Joe Orton’s ‘What the Butler Saw’ was written in the 1960s it must be hopelessly out-dated.  The manners, morals and authority figures that Orton targets in this ferociously satirical play still need skewering fifty years after the play was written.  Back then people were more open about their beliefs and ‘standards’.  In these supposedly more enlightened days, we just make sure what we say is politically correct instead.

‘What The Butler Saw’ was first performed in London in 1968.  The playwright, Joe Orton, was already dead, having been murdered by his gay partner a couple of months previously.  Although he wrote only a small number of plays during the 1960s, including ‘Entertaining Mr Sloan’ and ‘Loot’, the impact of his work was considerable and highly influential on later writing.

Orton’s play is critical of the society of the time, especially attitudes to sex, double standards, the medical profession, privilege, authority and power.  His writing shocked and offended audiences at the time.  These days we’re not so much shocked as surprised at how many of the same issues are still around.  We don’t seem to have come very far at all.

In the play, a psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice, is seen interviewing a young woman, Geraldine Barclay, for a position as his secretary.  His interview methods are highly inappropriate and, with the unexpected arrival of his wife, he needs to hide the girl, now naked, from view, leading to a succession of farcical situations.  Every character in the play has secrets which add further complexity to the situation.

Director, Liz Bradley, has given us a strong production with fine performances from her cast of six.  While she has it moving at break-neck speed, Bradley ensures that the line delivery is carefully considered and spoken by her actors.  While you can enjoy the show just as a typical farce, the physicality of the production is secondary to Orton’s ideas.

Peter Holland and David Cannell

David Cannell gives a fine performance as Dr. Prentice whose world is suddenly crumbling around him and Zoe Swan is a delightfully innocent Geraldine Barclay, the prospective secretary.  Lainie Hart, as the bustling, formidable Mrs Prentice, who has secrets of her own, is very funny and Peter Holland gives a well-judged frenzied performance of towering insanity as Dr Rance, an official sent by the Government to investigate Dr. Prentice’s methods.  Glenn Brighenti brings a youthful and confident cheekiness to his role as the blackmailing hotel bell-hop and Thomas Hyslop nicely combines the surface cliché of the policeman, Sergeant Match, with a seething decadence underneath.

Left to Right: Thomas Hyslop, Zoe Swan, David Cannell and Glenn Brighenti


Quentin Mitchell has designed a fine set for the show with some fun surprises and Anna Senior’s costume designs are just right for the characters.

This is a fine production that gets every element right as well as being highly entertaining

Photos supplied by the production.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

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